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Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s move to wing is not déja vu

From up and down, to left and right, the situation isn’t as similar as it looks.

NHL: APR 05 Oilers at Canadiens Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens under Marc Bergevin are no stranger to third overall picks coming to Montreal and being shuttled between centre and wing. They are also no stranger to skilled players going between top lines and so-called fourth lines.

But enough about Jonathan Drouin.

What? Did you think I was going to say Alex Galchenyuk?

Needless to say, there’s a lot of baggage that comes with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Development has been so bad in recent years that every setback in a non-linear manner has people feeling or thinking about an f word.

But there’s no need to fret.

What? Did you think I was going to say fail?

Development is rarely perfect or linear. The issue with the Canadiens’ recent and not-so-recent past is that the trajectory for many highly-touted prospects has been straight... down.

It’s why every supposed demotion to a fourth line or move to a wing comes with a riff of “here we go again”. Two days ago, the commotion was that he was listed fourth among the team’s centres even though he finished second among the four centres at five-on-five. Now, the commotion is surrounding the fact he was moved to the Canadiens most important line, but at wing.

It’s understandable that this makes people invested in the Canadiens nervous. But there are plenty of examples around the league about how this is nothing to worry about. The Edmonton Oilers have shuttled Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl between centre and wing to get them to play on the team’s top line. The Pittsburgh Penguins did the same thing with Evgeni Malkin.

There are a lot of reasons to believe this group of Canadiens players mixed with this group of Canadiens coaches will play out differently. That’s not to put the blame on one specific group in the past or another, but it’s clear that the mix certainly didn’t work.

Joël Bouchard, the current head coach of the Laval Rocket in the AHL, says that he doesn’t look at the ups and downs of development as ups and downs but as ups with adversity.

It’s a mindset that can help explain Ryan Poehling’s trajectory to date. After all, when you score three goals plus the shootout winner in your professional debut there really isn’t much room to go anywhere but down. Bouchard looks at Poehling’s stability this year — as opposed to being shuttled left and right and north and south (as in to Laval and back) — as a reason for his success. Poehling can focus on his game, and is having a great year in his second full professional season.

The Rocket are about to get a lot of added attention because of the pending debut of Cole Caufield. The kid who is one of the top prospects outside of the NHL has more hype than even Kotkaniemi and Galchenyuk prior to their arrivals in Montreal. Every game will be examined with a microscope, both of fans looking for a reason to believe just as much as some looking for a reason to not get too excited.

The fact is, Caufield will face adversity. He won’t score every game whether at the AHL or NHL level. He may not score in his first game, and that’s OK. Results are just part of the equation, and something that the Canadiens have now is consistency in message.

When Xavier Ouellet was asked about the similarities between Bouchard and Canadiens interim head coach Dominique Ducharme after being sent back to the Rocket from the taxi squad, he said both of them work towards process rather than results. Both of them can come to you with things to improve after a win, as well as things to continue after a loss.

Not every downward trend has to be constant. What works for one player may not work for another. The road not travelled isn’t always more fruitful than the bumpy road that leaves you short of your ultimate destination.

When it comes to development, there’s one thing people need to have: patience.

What? Did you think I was going to say panic?